Donna’s determination to do things she loved led her to fight even harder to overcome cancer.
Donna Stibbard was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her hard journey through cancer treatment saw her body change, and helped her learn to pursue her dreams, no matter the obstacles.
Donna has always been a sporting person, she grew up playing sports through school and being active was a part of her life. But when a big challenge like breast cancer is a certainty, exercise becomes essential for wellbeing going on from the treatment and surviving the cancer. Until she lost them during her treatment, Donna didn’t realize how important her lymph nodes were. Being active and moving her limbs help her to keep being healthy.
During her eight month breast cancer treatment, her outlook wasn’t good. “I was a bit sick for most of it. Half way through it didn’t look like it was going well; it didn’t look like I was going to survive. I decided that if that was the case, I was going to ski, because I missed it. So right in the middle of my chemotherapy treatment I went off and skied down a mountain. Because I thought if I’m dying now I’m going out doing something I like”, she laughs.
Donna’scarpe diem attitude gave her hope. “I was half way down this mountain skiing with friends, thinking you know, if I can ski a mountain in the middle of chemotherapy, I don’t think I’m done with this world yet. Doing something like that gave me the strength to keep going on with the chemotherapy.”
“We all have to die, and unfortunately some people need a gripping call like cancer to learn how to live, and that’s a terrible thing,” she said. “So if I think people are challenged with it, they need to stand up, reclaim their life and be strong .They have to go OK, I’m going to get through this, it’s going to be part of my life, and it’s not going to be all of my life. They have to go to whatever level they need to make their life feel normal. The have to celebrate the good and the bad. Hopefully they can get through to the other side, which is what I have been fortunate enough to do, but if they have to enjoy their lives whilst they try to stay alive.”
Donna’s powerful advice comes from experience. During her cancer treatment, she underwent several surgeries and chemotherapy, altering the way she looked completely. “When you’re in chemotherapy, everyone treats you a bit differently because you look sick. You’re bald as a woman; you don’t have eyelashes and eyebrows. When I went skiing I had a beanie on and goggles and I was just like everybody else, and that did me a lot of mental good as well. Nobody knew I was sick, nobody knew I was going through chemotherapy, I was just me. That was definitely my greatest achievement. I encourage everybody in chemotherapy to go somewhere really cold, they’ll feel very normal!”
Donna knows that exercise is one of the most important things to help prevent the disease reappearing, and to lower the chances of it developing at all. During her checkups, her doctor always checks her weight: “Anybody that’s had cancer, it’s important that they don’t put on too much weight, because increase weight increases your chance of getting recurrent. So maintaining your weight at a healthy level is so important. I maintain a healthy weight, I keep my stress levels to a minimum, I like exercising and I try to eat as well as I can – I do eat too much chocolate, but I think chocolate is a pretty good thing in itself. The world would be a sad place without chocolate. I always say to people ‘chocolate cures cancer! look at me, it cured me!” she explains.
Her advice is to keep life simple and as normal as possible: “Go for a walk, go out with friends, have a coffee, do some normal stuff. You have to reclaim your life; you have to make what you’re going through just a part of it and not all of your life. Just that healthy feeling of getting out, you might feel tired afterwards, but how good you feel after you just went and so free! Anything that makes you just be in the moment.
Donna is a Senior Clinical Advisor at GE Healthcare and is also a #GetFit Ambassador. She is proud to be in a company which can use resources to send out important messages like this one.“When you exercise, it’s all about you. I think that’s a healthy thing. I think that’s where we get that balance. It’s all about a good healthy balance in your life.”